“I would like for our management team to go away for a couple of days to spend some time thinking about the future. We get so caught up in making monthly and quarterly numbers, that we never get a chance to look at where this whole thing is really going. I hate to say it, but while I can get everyone together, I’m not quite sure what we would do. I just know we need to take some time to really think and we need to get everyone on the same page. Can you help?”

Refreshing, isn’t it? I’ll admit most CEOs I work with don’t state their desire so directly. But many do recognize both the need for their team to think strategically and the need for help in doing it. So, how do you structure a masterful strategy meeting?

In my book, The Secrets to Masterful Meetings, I offer the following definition of a masterful meeting:

A masterful meeting is a well-prepared, skillfully-executed, results-oriented meeting with a timely start, a decisive close, and a clear follow-up plan.

For a strategy meeting to be masterful, we at Leadership Strategies believe that the participants should think about the answers to four key questions.

  1. Where are we now?
  2. Where do we want to be?
  3. How do we get there?
  4. How will we monitor our progress?

We also find that a key to success is managing the transition between the phases of answering each question. Let’s take a look at each of the steps.

Step 1: Where are we now? (Situation Assessment)

Understanding the current situation is vital to identifying the approaches needed to drive success. A full understanding of the current situation includes an analysis of several areas. The list below shows a sample list of assessment areas and one or two of the key questions to be answered for each.

  • Customers – What are their current and future needs? What are their perceptions of our performance?
  • Employees – What are their perceptions of our organization and how we can improve? How can we make them more effective in their roles?
  • Industry trends – What have been recent shifts in the industry? What shifts are anticipated for the future?
  • Competitors – How do we compare against our competitors? What are their recent and anticipated initiatives?
  • Performance trends – How are we performing by product, by market, by channel?
  • Recent goals and initiatives – How are we achieving against our plan? How successful have we been with recent initiatives?

This first step is intended to get everyone on the same page understanding where we are currently. For masterful preparation, we recommend that this information be prepared in advance and compiled in a briefing book provided to each participant prior to the strategy meeting.

To manage the transition between the first and second steps, we recommend taking time in the strategy meeting having the team summarize the situation assessment information by identifying one or both of the following:

  • The SWOT: a summary of the organizations key strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.
  • Positioning statements: a series of statements that describe how the organization needs to position itself in the future to respond to trends.

Step 2. Where do we want to be? (Strategic Direction)

This second step of the masterful strategy meeting is the heart of direction setting. The information from the situation assessment is combined with the understanding of future trends to develop the vision statement and the mission statement.

  • Vision – the organization’s preferred picture of the future
  • Mission– the overall purpose of the organization (i.e., what the organization does, for whom it does it, and the benefit)

The information below shows a sample segment of a strategic plan for a trade association of meeting planners. While the mission speaks to “what they do, for whom, and the benefit,” the vision describes what the future will look like if the organization achieves its mission.

Vision The place where meeting planners meet Mission To provide a forum for furthering the growth and professionalism of the meetings industry.

The strategic direction setting also includes the defining of goals and objectives.

  • Goals– the broad, long-term aims that define accomplishment of the mission. We find that most organizations have between three and eight goals. Depending upon the size of your organization and the nature of your industry, typical goal areas might be profitability, community impact, products and services, customer service, operations, networking, technology, membership, distribution, leadership, organization, and work environment.

Each goal has a specific set of objectives, as shown below for the membership goal.

  • Objectives – specific, quantifiable, realistic targets that measure the accomplishment of a goal over a specified period of time.
Membership Goal Maximize membership growth, retention and involvement. Membership Objectives (by third year) Increase membership from 500 to 650 Increase average meeting attendance from 175 to 250 Achieve 10% committee involvement (from 5%)

The objectives establish the bar for the rest of the planning effort. To manage the transition between the second and third steps, all the strategies, action plans and investments should be focused on achieving one or more of the plan objectives. Therefore, it is critical that you select the right objectives for measuring our success. Establishing objectives is perhaps the toughest work in planning.

Step 3 – How do we plan to get there? (Implementation Planning)

Once the objectives are established, the next step in the masterful strategy meeting is to develop the road map for achieving the direction. For the road map to be viable, however, it must focus on three areas in particular.

  • The barriers to achieving the goals and objectives indicate the challenges that the organization must overcome to achieve its strategic direction. Therefor, barriers answer the following questions: “Why haven’t we achieved our goals already? What is standing in our way?”
  • While barriers address the challenges, the critical success factors identify those key conditions that must be met to achieve the goals. Hence, critical success factors (typically no fewer than two and no more than seven per goal) serve as a guide for determining the strategies to be developed.
  • The strategies that are undertaken (i.e., the road map) must drive achievement of the strategic direction by controlling the critical success factors and overcoming the barriers.

To manage the transition to the next phase, an important activity at this stage is the prioritization of strategies to determine the items to focus on first. For each priority strategy, an action plan is developed which details steps, responsibilities, costs and timetables. The action plans can then be summarized to identify resource requirements and to develop a resource plan to meet those requirements.

Critical Success Factors Dynamic presenters with timely, substantive topics to increase meeting attendance High awareness of association by meeting planners to attract new members
Objectives Increase membership from 500 to 650 Increase average meeting attendance from 175 to 250 Achieve 10% committee involvement Strategies Utilize assessment survey and industry referrals to select quality speakers and topics Revise new member registration process to ask desired committee Hold quarterly committee fairs after meetings Distribute new member list to committee heads Implement PR program to report activities to the local media
Barriers Inadequate process for getting new members involved results in burn-out of a few and low retention High membership turnover hinders consistent growth

Step 4 – How will we monitor progress? (Monitoring)

Many organizations benefit simply from going through the process of creating a strategy. At this point, everyone is clear on where we are going and how we plan to get there. However, the key value to strategy development comes in the implementation of the plan. Unfortunately, all too often, strategic plans become space fillers on an executive’s bookshelf. Consequently, we recommend a structured monitoring process every three-to-six months. to prevent that occurrence.

The structured review involves:

  • Assessing progress on strategies
  • Grading the current and projected performance against the objectives
  • Identifying changes in the environment, new barriers, additional critical success factors
  • Making adjustments to the objectives
  • Re-establishing priorities for strategies, removing strategies and adding new strategies as needed

Though often a sobering process, this detailed level of monitoring provides a method for ensuring that the long-term strategy stays on the front burners, despite the pressures of the day-to-day business operation.